Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

Please note: the statistics I am using are from the 2016 election cycle as currently there is no compilation of information on fire unions’ involvement in this 2020 cycle.

“31 firefighter union PACs donated more than a quarter-million dollars to 59 city council and mayoral candidates in Arizona. More than half of the donations went to 10 individuals, eight of whom are active or retired firefighters, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of local and state campaign finance data.” (https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-investigations/2017/03/28/arizona-firefighter-unions-donated-hundreds-thousands-local-elections/99603914/).

For some local candidates firefighter PAC money is their major source of funding for a campaign. While police unions can and do contribute the firefighters unions generally contribute more than seven times better than any police union PAC.

Here is a list of fire union PACs that made campaign contributions in the 2016 cycle. It is by no means a complete list of all of the union chapters in the state of Arizona. For example, there is no Chandler or Scottsdale on this list.

  • Arizona Firefighters
  • Avondale Firefighters
  • Buckeye Firefighters
  • Casa Grande Firefighters
  • Central Yavapai Firefighters
  • Daisy Mountain Firefighters
  • El Mirage Firefighters
  • Flagstaff Firefighters
  • Gilbert Firefighters
  • Glendale Firefighters
  • Goodyear Firefighters
  • International Association of Firefighters
  • Lake Havasu Firefighters
  • Los Angeles Firefighters
  • Mesa Firefighters
  • Peoria Firefighters
  • Phoenix Firefighters
  • Pima Firefighters
  • Prescott Firefighters
  • Sedona-Verde Valley Firefighters
  • Sun Lakes Firefighters
  • Surprise Firefighters
  • Tempe Firefighters
  • Tucson Firefighters
  • United West Valley Firefighters

That’s not all the fire unions contribute to a candidate’s campaign. “Firefighter political involvement doesn’t end with money. Fire groups across the state and country are known for their grassroots support of candidates. Hayden said he participated in elections his entire career by acquiring signatures and placing campaign signs for candidates.” (Arizona Republic article cited above).

Why do the fire unions insert themselves into local political races? The answer is really quite simple. It increases the fire unions’ chances of gaining better pay and benefits. That’s it. It’s naked power for the sake of greed. In Glendale, the fire union would prefer that you ignore the fact that their members are one of the best paid in the entire state. For them, that is irrelevant…for it’s always about more.

How do the unions get their money? Each PAC collects donations from every union firefighter. Each local union collects maybe $5 or $10 from every chapter member’s paycheck. Some of that money is then passed on to the state union PAC. The state PAC focuses primarily on local candidates. The maximum donation to a local candidate is $6,400 and often the limit is given to a candidate by multiple fire union PACs. In a short time the money becomes big money with strings attached.

What are the effects of a fire backed local candidate losing a race? Let’s use Glendale as a real time example. I have been in seven election cycles…all had fire union backed candidates. I won six of them and the fire union won one…Sammy Chavira. How did that work out? In all of my previous winning contests I continued to treat every fire union request with a fair hearing and decided any issue on what I considered to be best for the entire city.

I hope the rank and file of the Glendale chapter of the fire union reads the remarks I am offering. Your union President, Aarick O’Hara, has failed you in this election cycle. I thought I was working toward building a good, working relationship with Mr. O’Hara. We had discovered common ground on several issues. Prior to the run up to the election, Mr. O’Hara offered the following deal. The union would stay out of my race if I would disavow and not support or endorse Mayor Weiers. My answer to Mr. O’Hara was that I could not accede to his request. He then implied that he would be advising the executive board to endorse my opponent and that the executive board would comply with whatever he recommended. I bet none of you knew that.

I want the rank and file to know that Mr. O’Hara’s actions in support of Michelle Robertson and Bryce Alexander in an effort to take both of us off the Glendale City Council may well have repercussions. One of the questions you, as a dues paying firefighter, should be asking is did Mr. O’Hara vet either candidate and if he did, did he ignore the baggage that each candidate carried? If he did not vet them or ignored their questionable histories then he did a disservice to you. Another question for the rank and file is how much voice do you actually have when it comes to backing or not backing a local candidate? Did you, the rank and file union member, get to vote on the issue of endorsements or did O’Hara decide?

The troubling outcome is that I cannot and will no longer work with Mr. O’Hara. He has done irreparable damage to the hope of creating any positive and healthy relationship with the local fire union. That is a shame when I thought we were finally making progress.

Finally, I am sure that in the aggregate the fire unions spent upwards of $150,000 on the two Glendale races. To what end? To end up flushing that money down a toilet by backing losing candidates.

Why isn’t that money better spent to provide services to the rank and file members or using it to benefit the disadvantaged within our communities? Think of how much good could have been created with that $150,000+. Now your chapter, the Glendale chapter, owes every other fire union that contributed to the candidates in the Glendale race. You will be asked to repay the debt by putting up campaign signs and walking neighborhoods in Peoria or Tempe or wherever as payback for their contributions in the Glendale races.

I can tell you the relationship has been set back considerably. I don’t know about the internal workings of your union. Perhaps it’s time for the rank and file to decide if your current leadership is building a positive and healthy relationship and working for your best interest or for that of others.

© Joyce Clark, 2020         


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